Part Soldering Iron, Part Hand-Held Oscilloscope

If you are in the market for a temperature controlled soldering iron, an attractive choice of the moment is the TS-100 iron available by mail-order from China. This is an all-in-one iron with a digital temperature controller built into its handle, featuring a tiny OLED display. It’s lightweight, reasonable quality, and all its design and software are available and billed as open source (Though when we reviewed it we couldn’t find an open source licence accompanying the code.) This combination has resulted in it becoming a popular choice, and quite a few software hacks have appeared for it.

The latest one to come our way is probably best described as coming from the interface between genius and insanity without meaning to disparage the  impressive achievement of its author. [Befinitiv] has implemented a working oscilloscope on a TS-100, that uses the soldering iron tip as a probe and the OLED as a display. It requires a small modification to the hardware to bring the iron contact into an ADC pin on the microcontroller, and there is currently no input protection on it so the iron could easily be fried, but it works.

It is strongly suggested in the write-up that this isn’t a production-ready piece of work and that you shouldn’t put it on your iron. At least, not without that input protection and maybe a resistive divider. But for all that it’s still an impressive piece of work, a working soldering iron that becomes a ‘scope on a menu selection. Take a look at the ‘scope-iron in action, we’ve posted a video below the break.

If you’re curious about the iron, you can read our TS-100 review. Alternatively if you have one and a ‘scope sounds too risky, how about putting Tetris on your iron?

27 thoughts on “Part Soldering Iron, Part Hand-Held Oscilloscope

  1. I’m not entirely sure how useful it would be to be able to do this quickly, but assuming you set up a few 555s with various patterns being generated from them, you could try setting up a trigger on the o-scope side to alter settings of the soldering iron side with just a tap to a conductive panel.

    Like having three metal panels, one for each temperature setting you might need access to.

    1. That’s an interesting user interface idea, it reminds me of an artist’s palette. Rather than color, you tap the tip to apply different temperatures to it.
      If the device has a more accessible control interface, I imagine it would be easier to set this up as a separate accessory though, and do away with reading the function output on each pad. Certainly less fancy though.

  2. And I remember learning to solder with a pointed lump of copper on a stick heated in a blowtorch. Now soldering irons have a 32 bit Arm processor with a 12 bit ADC and a nifty oled display.
    This is the best hack I have seen in a long time (not ‘best’ as in useful, ‘best’ as in inspirational).

    1. A bluetooth equipped logic probe linked to a smartphone or tablet with open source firmware, a little oled display all in a small package like this would be quite nifty. Someone! Make it so!

  3. In a perfect world the manufacturer somewhere in the depths of China would see this and the next revision would have it as a feature. (And open-source the firmware.).
    In theory nothing should beat the rapid product cycles of Chinese companies + the innovation of people dedicated to unlock the potential of existing but limited products.
    We would have better products and they gain a competitive advantage by supporting “hacks”.

  4. very nice, if the soldering iron functionality was not compromised, this could prove the TS100 to be a great little tool. Needs some triggering options, and maybe some simple protocol analyzers. Also have the scope functionality run of the USB power (not the DC input) would be nice.
    The author speaks of “a clean room implementation of the original firmware” and using a button and the IMU to set values in the interface by physically turning in either direction. I love it, subscribed.

    1. to follow up, there’s a MMA8652FC (3-Axis, 12-bit Digital Accelerometer) connected to the I2C bus. It doesn’t seem to be used by the original (soldering iron) firmware, so in that sense the TS100 is almost like a dev kit.

      grepping through the original source code, the accelerometer is only used for keeping the device active while there is movement.

      Also the second switch is defunct in this setup, since pressing K2 will short whatever you’re measuring to ground through the switch, so best to remove it. Hence the author’s idea to use the accelerometer with the 1 remaining button for user input. However, other ADC inputs are available on unused pins, albeit a (much) more difficult soldering mod to the STM32 in a VFQFPN-36 package.

      I love these articles, and hope to see more from this author, Great Hack !

  5. In my opinion, I would get one of these TS-100s to hack into a graphical logic probe and forget about it as a soldering iron. Just being able to get more information that a simple flashing LED-based logic probe, while staying in that form factor, would be a valuable asset to my shop.

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